October 20, 2008

Northumberland's Cockle Park Experimental Station

Cockle Park Farm. An account of the work of the Cockle Park Experimental Station from 1896-1956 by H Cecil Pawson. Published 1960. Oxford University Press.

Professor H Cecil Pawson, MBE, DSc, FRSE

 Cockle Park tower built for defence against the raiding Scotts in 1300 and for student accommodation in the 1950s

Armstrong College in Newcastle upon Tyne opened a School of Agriculture in 1896 and five years later experiments started at Cockle Park north of Morpeth in Northumberland by Professor William Somerville, the first Professor of Agriculture. His main challenge was to improve the large areas of poor grassland in the northern counties of Britain and his research showed spectacular results were achieved with the phosphate-rich industrial waste product "basic slag" from iron smelting.

Somerville was followed at Armstrong College in 1899 by Thomas Middleton who revolutionised agricultural education at the college, and set up the famous King's College Agricultural Society built on old students as they progressed into the industry.
Prof Gilchrist
Research continued under Professor Douglas Gilchrist (Science Director) by advocating ploughing up old pastures and sowing new grass and clover mixtures. The Cockle Park seeds mixture became famous world wide, as well as showing the importance of wild white clover in pastures.

 Cockle Park Seed's mixture
Generations of students have had to learn the "Cockle Park Seed's mixture" off by heart. There were many modifications added to suit different conditions, but this was the core one.
  • 12 lb Perennial ryegrass
  • 10 lb Cocksfoot
  • 4lb Timothy
  • 4lb English red clover
  • 4lb Wild white clover
Later in history, Armstrong College became part of the University of Durham and the Department became the School of Agriculture. The School eventually became part of Newcastle University.

Appendix II of Prof Pawson's book is about the history of the Cockle Park Tower showing a print of it in 1774. It is a classic example of the peel towers or Border fortresses which covered the marches on both sides of the Border during the period of conflict.

Prof Mac Cooper
Another great source of information about Cockle Park is the biography of Professor M.M Cooper who came to Kings College from the Chair of Agriculture at Wye College in 1953 to be Dean of Agriculture so was in charge of the teaching and research programme, the commercial farm at Nafferton and the Experimental Station at Cockle Park.

Mac Cooper - A biography by John Craven.
Published 2000. The Pentland Press Ltd.
ISBN 1-85821-807-1

Always Your Friend. A personal appreciation of H Cecil Pawson by Reverend Edwin Thompson. Publishing Date unknown.

 The Cockle Park song
 It's not known who composed the original Cockle Park song, but singing it was a right of passage of all Agric students, along with many other classics. Here is the original from the Agric's Song Book.

 When Prof Cooper came up from Wye College to be Dean at Kings, he started making major changes to Cockle Park, some of which were welcomed and some not.

This took place in my third and fourth year (1954-55), and our class was instrumental in adding new verses to the song. - verses 3, 4 and 5.  The leader of the song changes was Henry Pickering, but we all added suggestions to the final version below.

It was always sung with great gusto to the tune of Hark the Herald Angels Sing. Thanks to Dr Deric Charlton for supplying this copy, obviously typed in the days before word processors!

We were all in awe of Prof Mac to the point of worshiping his every word.  Like a good Kiwi he was a great user of the word 'good'  - things he described as being good.  So that's why it's in the poem. And of course he was always quoting research from a place called Ruakura in New Zealand by his mate CP McMeekan.
So Ruakura again was a regular target for our mimicry.  Little did I realise that it would one day become my workplace, at the other side of the world far from that lecture room in the Ag School at King's College, University of Durham in Newcastle upon Tyne!

1 comment:

  1. I appreciate your blog on Cockle Park. I am an ex-Newcastle student writing up her late father's memoirs - and he attended Pawson's lectures. He writes that one of the students had been ill and missed the course and borrowed someone who had attended Pawson's lectures 30 years earlier - and found that the notes were identical!